Jennifer Heng has held various leadership positions in church, from youth pastor to Senior Pastor. She was also the volunteer Director of Dayspring New Life Centre, which aims to empower women and families going through with unsupported pregnancy. Coming from a troubled past herself, she went through several unhealthy relationships and two abortions before the age of 20.
But in a redemptive journey that she documents in her book, Walking Out Of Secret Shame, she discovered a ministry in walking alongside women who face the same difficulties as she did. Today she’s an inspirational speaker and stay-at-home-mum.
You have a beautiful story of healing and redemption, which has powerfully paved the way for building connections with women you have served throughout the years. How do you balance this story of God’s transformation in your life with the secular nature of your work?
The centrality of the gospel is in all I do – whether in Church work or otherwise. The difference is how it is communicated. My story gives me a good connection point with people. I make no apologies about sharing what God did in and for me.
I find that people are generally very respectful and open. If it’s a non-religious context, I will come from the position that I’m sharing my personal story, and I will stop there. If the listener asks questions about my faith or God, I will definitely answer and keep going with whatever track he/she is taking. Otherwise, I will remain faithful in testifying and trusting God to do the rest.
Of course, often my story is not enough. The people I have the honour of walking with in some of their most desperate situations need more than just a good story. And the way I apply help techniques, or make the right referrals needs to reflect the heart of God too – always firm but gentle.
Do you have any advice for others that may wish to help those who are suffering and vulnerable, but feel inadequate to do so due to a lack of a personal connection or shared experience?
It’s good to learn from others first. Talk to someone who is doing something that you can see yourself doing. If possible, observe, volunteer, do an internship … Sometimes we come with great intentions and think that “a good heart” is enough.
It’s ok if you don’t start with a personal connection or shared experience. Of course, it’s always good to learn more about those you want to help. Read. Attend conferences. Take a part-time course. Get equipped.
But also remember that you will never be 100% ready. So give some time to doing some preliminary learning, then learn as you go along, preferably with guidance from others who are more experienced and can offer you the protection and accountability you need.
Throughout your career, what challenges have you encountered as a female leader, and how did you overcome these?
To be honest I’ve never had major problems in what I do that’s simply related to me being a woman. It’s often a combination of things.
In the past, I’ve encountered a small handful of men over the years who struggled to work with me. I always try to handle these situations as objectively as possible, and seek to be magnanimous and humble, though this isn’t easy. At times I also had to let go of my obsession with keeping the peace, and be at peace instead.
Leading was certainly more challenging when I was younger, from my late 20s to early 30s. I often found myself in meetings where I was the youngest, and the only woman. It was very intimidating.
I remember being very self-conscious, terrified I would say something stupid. But in time I grew in confidence in the Lord. It really was a journey. I observed and learned from other leaders – male and female – on how to be a godly person and a leader.
Now that I’m a little older and secure in God, my focus now is on what He has called me to do.
Looking back, I really appreciate the older men and women around me who guided and supported me. For instance, as the Senior Pastor of a new church I had planted, I remember how all the board members were men. Men who were much older than me.
But these men were incredibly godly, honouring and supportive. I remember attending events together with my board members, and how whenever we met people, our new friends would always assume that one of the board members was the Senior Pastor.
It never got old observing the reactions of people when my board members then introduced me as the Senior Pastor – we always had a good laugh after that sort of thing.
Now that I’m a little older and secure in God, these things don’t happen quite so often anymore. But even if they do, I don’t take it too seriously.
Because my focus now is on what God has called me to do.
Jennifer will be speaking at LuminoCity 2017.
LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Thir.st readers can enjoy a special discount of $40 from October 24 till October 30 with the promo code “THIRSTY”.